By David Amoruso for Gangsters Inc.
Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum can be viewed as being among the elite of Mexico’s narcos. He has close, family, ties to Sinaloa Cartel bosses “El Chapo” Guzman and “El Mayo” Zambada and made hundreds of millions while moving tons of cocaine into the United States. His wealth was illustrated by his lavish ranch, which contained horse stables, a swimming pool, a playground, and a church.
Cazares Gastellum grew up in the Sierra Madre mountains, but moved to the Los Angeles area in the 1990s, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to the LA Times. He was busted twice for meth possession, not exactly big time narco plays.
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He (right) then moved back to Sinaloa, where he hooked up with drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva and got real close to the leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel. His sister had a relationship with Sinaloa boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, while his nephew is married to the sister of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Back in his home country, Cazares Gastellum set up a cocaine trafficking route into the United States that would place him among the elite of the Sinaloa Cartel and make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
The Calexico border crossing
Using the border crossing in Calexico, California, Cazares Gastellum organized countless drug shipments from Mexico into the United States using any manner of transportation available. For example, he would have his crew use regular busses that went back and forth across the border from Mexicali to Calexico carrying normal passengers. Hidden in the rims of the rear tires of the bus were over 70 kilos of cocaine.
The Sinaloa Cartel has various cells taking care of different pieces of the smuggling route. Once across the border, Carlos Cuevas, head of the local transport unit, welcomed the shipments at his warehouse. There, his crew unpacked the drugs and sent it on its way further into the United States, towards Los Angeles.
Loads of 300 kilos of coke were hidden in trucks as they headed to New York. There, the cocaine was replaced with cash, sometimes 3.5 million dollars, as the truck’s content headed back to Mexico. This way, Cazares Gastellum supplied the northeast of the United States.
Making over $200 million in 2 years
Things went like this for years. Cocaine one way, cash another. All the while, Cazares Gastellum got richer and richer. The DEA estimates he made 200 to 250 million dollars in just two or three years. He used his money to build and expand his ranch outside Culiacán, which included a mansion, a church, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool with slide, horse stables, and a playground.
Then, in May of 2005, a traffic stop in El Centro meant the beginning of the end of Cazares Gastellum’s life if luxury.
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Police found 25 kilos of drugs inside the car and a cell phone lying on the passenger seat. All the contacts in the phone are listed as nicknames. Authorities used the phone to trace other phones and create a picture of the smuggling network. It is the beginning of a large scale investigation in which hundreds of phones are tapped and which will result in over thousand arrests, including the man behind the network; Cazares Gastellum himself.
Wanted and on the run
He was indicted by U.S. authorities in 2007, along with his son-in-law and 17 others. An attempt to arrest him failed. He was spotted in downtown Culiacan, surrounded by 20 to 30 bodyguards. Police decided not to arrest him so not to risk a bloodbath. They were simply outgunned by the narcos. With him being safely tucked away in Mexico, where he could buy protection, the U.S. added a $5 million-dollar reward for information leading to his arrest (photo below).
He spent the next five years on the run. He underwent plastic surgery to make himself look younger and alter his appearance. He tried to lay low, mainly staying indoors. “I was a fugitive of justice at that moment,” Cazares Gastellum said. “I was closed in my home like someone in jail, afraid I’d be arrested. Until I got to the point where I just wanted to go into public without caring if I’d be arrested. I was so tired of being locked up in that house.”
After five years on the run, he was caught in 2012 at a highway checkpoint near Guadalajara. Four years later he was extradited. In the U.S., he pleaded guilty to drug charges and admitted his role in moving more than 450 kilograms of cocaine. He agreed to forfeit $10 million.
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“I’m very sorry for my actions of my past life,” Cazares told the judge, according to the LA Times. “When I get out I’m going to live here and join a church and work for God. I want to live in a house surrounded by my children and grandchildren the rest of my life.”
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Meanwhile, back home, it’s business as usual. Despite top leaders like Cazares Gastellum and, more importantly, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman locked up across the border, the flow of drugs and money continues and their families remain a powerful presence in the Mexico underworld.
Cazares Gastellum’s sister, Blanca Margarita Cazares Salazar, allegedly ran a network of money laundering businesses in Tijuana for the Sinaloa Cartel. Her nephew, Edgar, married Alejandrina Gisselle Guzmán, daughter of “El Chapo”, in January of 2020. The ceremony took place behind closed doors in the exclusive cathedral of Culiacán, in the heartland of the Sinaloa Cartel’s narco empire.
The wedding emphasized the elite position of the narco families in Mexico and showed the strong links between Cazares and Guzman. Despite the arrest of these leaders, others will carry on in their names.
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